Say the word “bully,” and most people imagine a childhood playground and stolen lunch money. As traumatic as childhood bullying can be, workplace bullying can have an even bigger impact on the psychological and physical health of the victim. It also adversely affects other employees, the organization as a whole and that all-important bottom line.
The Impact and Cost of Bullying
1. Lower Productivity
How it costs the victim. When a person is being bullied at work, it’s difficult to stay on-task and do one’s best work. He or she is likely feeling distracted, disheartened and disempowered. The stress of the situation also may be having physical effects, such as difficulty sleeping, fatigue, digestive problems, headaches or muscle pain.
For many of us, our self-esteem is closely tied to our work performance. We want to do good work and be recognized for that. If instead, a worker is ridiculed or bullied in other ways, his or her self-esteem and confidence will decline.
How it costs the company. When employees are not working to their full potential because of bullying, they’re not helping the organization achieve its goals, and may even be undermining them. They’re paid for their contribution. If they don’t perform, there’s no return on that investment.
2. Damaged Relationships
How it costs the victim. In a worker’s search for sympathy and support, he or she may turn to gossip or complaining, instead of more productive solutions. And that can affect credibility, making it harder for the victim to find resolution or gain any support. Without realizing it, he or she could also be perpetuating a toxic workplace environment that will just breed more bullying.
How it costs the company. When teams of employees aren’t working well together because of unhealthy relationships and bullying, it may mean that:
• More employees will quit or call in sick.
• Innovation and creativity will be down because people don’t feel safe enough to take risks or make suggestions.
• Work will be done inefficiently because team members aren’t communicating clearly.
• Employees will take out their frustration and anger on customers.
• The company will have to pay litigation fees and/or damages to the victim of bullying.
3. How to Spot Workplace Bullying
Bullying is not always easy to spot; there may be a gradual build-up of subtle intimidation or undermining behaviours. Here are some things to look for. Is someone at work continually:
• Threatened with physical violence or unwarranted pay cuts, firing or disciplinary action?
• Criticized or berated in front of the team? Always made to be the scapegoat and inappropriately blamed for disappointing results?
• Assigned tasks in which he or she is set up to fail, such as things that aren’t in his or her skill set or can’t be done in the time allotted?
• Purposefully isolated from the rest of the team by being left out of the loop or not invited to meetings or events?
4. What to Do If You’re Being Bullied
Acknowledge the situation and take care of yourself. Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, authors of The Bully at Work, urge you to be honest about what’s happening; don’t minimize it. And then take some time away from work so that you can explore your options, and restore your physical and emotional health. Find an impartial source of support that is not connected with your company.
Confront your employer. When you feel strong enough, confront your employer about what’s been going on. Nothing will change if you don’t. The Namies recommend that when you’re approaching your superiors, focus on the costs of the bully to the company. If you focus on the emotional impact on you, you’re more likely to be discredited. Simply present the facts: what was said, what was done and the impact on the company’s bottom line.
Plan your exit strategy. Be clear about your own bottom line. What needs to happen in order for you to stay at the job? Does the bully need to be disciplined, transferred or fired? How long will you wait for things to improve? Will you ask for compensation? Pursue litigation? What are your next steps in finding a new job?
Whether or not you end up with a positive resolution at that workplace, remember that the bully has not taken away any of your accomplishments, skills or potential for future success at work.